Labor Law & The Holidays
‘Tis the season to be jolly – but before you go decking the halls of your workplace, keep in mind that not all employees might enjoy the merry-ment. That doesn’t mean you can’t be festive this holiday season, but take a cautious approach so all employees feel included, regardless of their religious preferences.
Celebrating the Holiday Season in the Workplace
Every year come December, HR professionals begin to ask some common questions about the approaching holiday season. We’ll answer the most popular ones below.
- Can I decorate the office for Christmas? According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, secular displays are perfectly acceptable for the holidays. These include trees, garland, ornaments, lights, Santa, reindeer, elves, etc. Things get trickier when it comes to religious displays. In order to avoid discrimination, it’s best to stay away from Nativity scenes, menorahs, and other blatantly religious symbolism.
- Can employees wish each other “Merry Christmas”? Employees are allowed to wish one another – and patients – “Merry Christmas,” but be aware that people who do not celebrate the holiday may find this term offensive. Substituting “Happy Holidays” is an acceptable alternative, but in today’s ultra-sensitive society, even that can be construed as a code for Christmas. There’s no way to please everybody, so we suggest sticking to “Merry Christmas” unless somebody specifically requests otherwise. In that case, go with “Happy Holidays” when addressing that individual – or nothing at all.
- If the office is closed on Christmas, do I have to offer those who don’t celebrate an alternative day off? Christmas is considered a federal holiday and as such is treated no differently than Thanksgiving or New Year’s. If an employee asks to work that day and take another day off instead, you are under no obligation to accommodate them in this manner unless it makes sense from a business perspective. If employees request other days off during the year to celebrate a religious holiday you do need to provide them with that option, but do not need to pay them unless you have a floating holiday policy.
- Can I request non-Christians to work on Christmas? While medical practices are one of the few businesses likely to be open on Christmas, you cannot seek out non-Christians to work on the holiday. Instead, ask for volunteers first, and base your final decision on seniority.